Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

David Grazian


In an era of increased cultural and political acceptance of homosexuality, scholars and laymen alike have investigated whether and how gay spaces, such as bars and neighborhoods, will persist. This dissertation takes an interactionist approach to these questions by interrogating how people actively construct the sexual reality of gay public space—as spaces rooted in sexual identity and as spaces of sexual interaction. I draw on approximately 400 hours of participant observation in gay bars and nightclubs in and around Philadelphia’s Gayborhood neighborhood, as well as countless informal interviews in the bars and 30 supplemental in-depth interviews. My theoretical approach is informed by a Durkheimian tradition that privileges interaction rituals as the bases for macro constructs such as culture, identity, and social stratification. I find that while diverse revelers patronize bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in a slice of Center City Philadelphia where there are rainbow street signs, rainbow flags, and a rainbow crosswalk, these symbols alone do not foster a gay definition of urban space. Collectively, these groups of people re-accomplish the sexual reality of the Gayborhood as gay public space to varying degrees through interaction rituals of socializing, drinking, dancing, holding hands, kissing, singing, and more. Gay rituals do not necessarily need to be enacted by gay people to generate positive emotions and feelings that restock gay symbols with excitement and cultural resonance. I also find that gay bars and nightclubs offer multiple, potentially competing realities. This precarity can exacerbate inequalities in the Gayborhood, such as categorical exclusions rooted in heteronormativity as well as poor mental health outcomes of gay club-goers. Broadly, I argue that the constructs of “gayborhoods” and “gay bars” are ideal contexts to identify and explain the interactional mechanisms through which we conceive of and manage the “sexual” in our social worlds.

Included in

Sociology Commons